Educating the Public (and Joy Behar) on What Nurses Do

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Social media has blown up over the decision Miss Colorado made to put on her nursing uniform and talk about her Alzheimer’s patient AND the female cut down about it on the View. In particular, it was the comment made by Joy Behar, “Why does she have a ‘doctor’s’ stethoscope on?” that outraged millions of nurses. To read and watch video, click here.
But is this the first time the public verbalized a false impression of what nurses do?

When millions of our public watches Grey’s Anatomy, where nurses just put people on bedpans, or when a nurse responds to questions a patient’s family member asks with, “I don’t know. It’s what the doctor ordered.” Or worse, “I’m just the nurse.”
We are also educating the public on what we do or don’t do.
Last week I was caring for an elderly patient. When the daughter walked on the unit, she demanded to speak to her mother’s nurse (me). Apparently, she was angry because the day before, the nurse told her niece (who was visiting), that the patient was discharged (and she was).  But in the process, it was discovered that the family couldn’t ensure 24-hour support. So, we held the discharge and got case management involved until we could ensure we were discharging the patient safely.
The only thing the daughter heard was that a NURSE – not the DOCTOR – was discharging her mother. She then went off on a tirade about how “these nurses think they’re doctors…they’re NOT doctors and have no business making decisions involving patients….”
As she continued criticizing nurses and talking about us like we were stupid, I felt my heart rate go up and that familiar surge of hydrochloric acid in my stomach.  It took everything I had NOT to get defensive and argue back. I WANTED to tell her that I actually DID have a doctoral degree and that nurses actually DO get involved – sometimes we save patients by catching errors DOCTORS make! And that we each have an important role to play in the delivery of healthcare.
But then I realized, that would have just fueled her fire and exposed myself as a fraud. After all, nurses are highly educated, professional, skilled human beings. And I wanted to prove that to her by NOT stooping to her level.
This is what I said:
“Help me to understand what is making you the most angry, because I want to help.”
She actually paused, looked at me, and then talked about how poor communication had been, and then reiterated her story. This time, she focused on her mom’s situation and stopped bad mouthing the nurses. I suggested we walk into her mom’s room to check on her and then talk about next steps. I redirected her to a conversation about what is best for her mom.
You see it didn’t matter that I was right. We DID have discharge orders but because the NURSE realized it wasn’t safe to send this patient home, she asked the physician to hold the discharge and consult case management. Although difficult, by NOT getting defensive, I articulated the value I, as a nurse, brings to the delivery of care.
We all need to do that.
It’s unfortunate that the public keeps finding reasons to think we are just physician’s handmaidens despite the fact that the public has identified NURSES as the most trustworthy and ethical profession.
We are always going to have people who just don’t get what we do. And that’s okay. My brother works for a computer software company and still don’t understand what exactly he does either.
The point is that every chance we have to articulate the value we bring to the delivery of healthcare, we need to take advantage.
1.     NEVER say, “I’m just a nurse; that’s what the doctor ordered; Let’s wait to see what the doctor says.” These statements validate that nurses are somehow beneath physicians.
2.     NEVER get into an argument with a patient or their family member. Many times, they are stressed. Be the bigger person and demonstrate your compassion and professionalism.
3.     ALWAYS speak highly of the nursing profession AND other nurses. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
Don’t spend a lot of time worrying about one ignorant comment made by one person. Instead, focus on what you can do to articulate YOUR value – to the public, your colleagues, AND to yourself.
Proud to be a nurse

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8 thoughts on “Educating the Public (and Joy Behar) on What Nurses Do”

  1. To Joy Behar,
    At the end of your life it will be a NURSE who holds your hand. It will be a NURSE who uses that 'doctor's stethoscope' to hear your last breath or your last heartbeat. It will be a NURSE who cleans you up before your daughter sees you for the last time. It will be a NURSE who holds her hand while she grieves. It will be a NURSE who cries about losing a patient when the shift is over. That NURSE will care for you in the same manner as any other patient because a good NURSE sees everyone as an individual with feelings and a spirit that shouldn't be broken. This was the point of Miss Colorado's monologue. Somehow you missed it while being driven to your overpaid job of ignorance. THANK GOD YOU ARE NOT 'JUST A NURSE'

  2. Thank you Renee for bringing it home. Education is key! I love how you talk about your brother and you have no idea what he does. I think my family has no idea what I do. I "work at home" or take care of patient's "personal hygiene needs"….I wish! I wish everyone could understand how hard a nurse works every day to ensure safe, quality patient care that involves all members of the team.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment ladies. We should all react to these comments and others in a way that validates our education and understanding of the human body and human behavior. I think the worst thing we can do is retaliate and attack ignorance. After all, aren't some of our patients with diabetes ignorant about their diet and how it impacts their glucose levels? Aren't our heart failure patients ignorant about the role of salt and weight gain? As nurses, we've all been shocked at times about patients and their ignorance but we don't judge them.
    It's time to educate the public and the people like Joy – not attack them. It's hard, I know. Especially because we work so hard without a lot of recognition.
    Kind regards

  4. Thanks Anne! We articulate our value by remaining professional at all times. Especially in situations like this when someone makes a ignorant comment. Instead of being ignorant right back, we should demonstrate compassion. Not saying we should ignore, but what I am saying is that we should rise above and correct her mistake.

    Appreciate the comments!

  5. Didn't just Miss Colorado, do just that, educate the public on what nurses do on her monologue?

    It was not just "an ignorant comment," from The View, they were numerous, and didn't you see what Michelle Collins posted in her Twitter after The View?

    Using your analogy, I don't know what computer people do exactly either but I do not plan on making fun of them if they stand on stage proud talking about their jobs helping people . . .

    In addition, the View hosts, Collins and Behar, are not my patients, they are hosts mocking Miss Colorado.

    There is a reason why this issue became a National backlash and five major used-to-be-The-View sponsors backing out on advertisements to the show.

  6. Thanks Carin. The nasty comments made about Miss Colorado and the implied nursing profession should inspire us to continue articulating what we do – as Miss Colorado did. I'm a huge advocate for speaking up about our profession in a positive way. What concerns me is that many of us are stooping to their level. And that's never a positive thing.
    I love that nurses are engaging in dialogue about this!!!

    Kind regards

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